At the start, this connection of Othello and a primary school in the 1970s seemed inspired. By the end I was just really frustrated by it.
It is 1975 and he’s the only black kid in sight. His connection with popular girl Dee is immediate – they bond, standing against the suspicions, envy and curiosity of the rest of the schoolyard.
But Ian is watching very carefully, and looking for an advantage.
Casper, secure as the most popular boy, is friendly, while Mimi and Blanca wait on the fringes. Over the course of this one day, early sunshine descends into tragedy – misunderstandings, evil machinations, racism, and love all play their part.
A central motif is a pink, strawberry-embossed pencil case – it belongs to Osei’s sister, he gives it to Dee, and she misplaces it, allowing it to become a powerful pawn in a much bigger game.
Shakespeare fans may already get some of the references, for this is Othello transformed as part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series.
On the plus side, the intense tragedy of this story translates surprisingly effectively into the squabbling of these 11-year-olds, and Chevalier has a highly readable style.
But I was left thinking less of the original play – it lost some of its grand tragedy in the shift to childish players. The grandeur of the language in Shakespeare’s original lifts the story above some of its sillier elements.
And while 11-year-olds might be this sexualised in 2017, they weren’t in 1975. This is something that probably wouldn’t matter to a younger audience (that is, younger than 45 or 50), who have no way of knowing that it was ever different. I can’t know if this is how Chevalier remembers it, or whether she did this as a way of connecting with a younger audience.
This book was published in May 2017.